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Patriots notebook

Prepared to snap to it

Backup Hoyer finally may get his opportunity

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / January 1, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH — Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer has improved a great deal in his two seasons in New England, but there’s one thing about him that can never change.

And it is Tom Brady’s least favorite thing about Hoyer.

“Brian is a great player . . . even though he’s a Michigan State kid,’’ Brady, a University of Michigan alum, said with a smile yesterday. “He’s really come a long way. I think for any quarterback, that first to second year is a big jump. He’s really a smart kid that’s got all the physical skills. He just needs the opportunity.

“We always talk about [the fact] that you never know when you’re going to get that opportunity, because at quarterback it’s one play. And then you go in there and you seize the opportunity. He’s done everything the coaches have asked. Obviously, they have a lot of confidence in him, he was the backup last year. I think the whole team has a lot of confidence in Brian.’’

Hoyer will likely get his opportunity tomorrow against the Dolphins. Brady will play — he made that clear in his news conference — but if this year’s regular-season finale is anything like last year’s in Houston, Hoyer will play about two quarters. Earlier this year, Hoyer said that playing time against the Texans was invaluable in terms of accelerating his understanding of the pro game.

The former rookie free agent has gotten precious few snaps this season, and has but two pass attempts.

However, coach Bill Belichick said Hoyer has shown in practice that he’s capable of handling a variety of situations.

“He certainly started at a much, much higher point this year than he did last year,’’ said Belichick. “I think he has improved a great deal this year — not as much as he did last year because the starting point was so much higher. I think Brian has done a very good job handling our scout team and handling the plays he has gotten in practice.

“That’s not game conditions, but you can evaluate how a player runs the team and how he handles himself in a similar practice scenario to Tom. He has done a good job. He has improved and I think he still has got things he needs to work on, but I think he has had a solid year given the opportunities that he’s had.’’

Though he isn’t playing much, Hoyer is still working.

“I’ve been getting in the film room with [quarterbacks coach] Bill O’Brien and focusing on defenses and things like that,’’ said Hoyer. “There’s not a day that goes by in here where I come in and don’t learn something new.’’

As for Brady, when asked about playing in a meaningless game in terms of playoff seeding, he left little doubt he’ll be in uniform.

“We’re playing, that’s just the way it is. It’s a football game and I’m the starting quarterback on this team and I’m going to play,’’ he said.

Bigger, better things Speaking of backup quarterbacks, Brady and Belichick were asked about the play this season of Matt Cassel, Brady’s former backup and now a starter with the Chiefs.

Cassel, who opened eyes with his capable performance in 2008 when Brady was lost to a knee injury, has thrown 27 touchdown passes and just five interceptions this season.

“He’s had an incredible year,’’ Brady said. “Any time you spend as much time as we spend together, you develop just a great relationship. He’s kind of like a brother to me. We’ve had a lot of great moments and memories together, we still do.’’

Belichick, who traded Cassel to Kansas City after the 2008 season, has seen Cassel on film a couple of times this season as the Patriots prepared for other opponents.

“Watching him play, he has played very well. He’s had an outstanding year,’’ Belichick said.

The Chiefs (10-5) will either be the AFC’s No. 3 or No. 4 seed for the playoffs.

Mayo fined $10,000 Linebacker Jerod Mayo was fined $10,000 for unnecessary roughness for a hit in last Sunday’s win in Buffalo.

“Specifically, on a pass play, he unnecessarily struck a defenseless player in the head and neck area,’’ the NFL said in a statement.

The league does not indicate which plays draw fines, but in the first quarter Mayo had a helmet-to-helmet hit on running back Fred Jackson on a pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Also, Myron Pryor did not win his appeal of the $7,500 penalty he received for his hit on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre Oct. 31. Favre needed stitches on his chin and was knocked out of the game.

Pained expressions The Patriots listed Ron Brace (elbow), Dan Connolly (concussion), and Mike Wright (concussion) as doubtful for tomorrow’s game. All three missed the team’s practices this week. Five players are listed as questionable: Tully Banta-Cain (groin), Deion Branch (knee), Jermaine Cunningham (calf), Aaron Hernandez (hip), and Pryor (back). Hernandez did not practice yesterday. Wes Welker was limited (not injury-related).

The Dolphins listed three players as out: linebacker Karlos Dansby (toe), tight end Anthony Fasano (knee), and offensive tackle Lydon Murtha (head). Cornerback Nolan Carroll (head) is questionable.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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